tv Book TV After Words CSPAN December 21, 2009 3:00am-4:00am EST
doctor and doctor they want, primary doc specialist, no gatekeeper and that sort of stuff. the doctor able to make their own decisions in consultation with their patients, d doc-patient, and in addition to that, frankly, more competition with the exchanges. this legislation, frankly, is -- is rooted almost entirely on -- maintain the current free market system in health care. there is an insurance market reform, which i think everybody agrees with and is denying preexisting conditions for denying coverage. and there is a modest expansion of medicaid, lower-income people that otherwise can't get health care. but otherwise this is legislation rooted in the current american system. we've got a good system that works and this is designed to
make it work a little better, but make it like the senator in wyoming wants, based on quality. he didn't mention this, but i know he agrees, insurance market reform, so those patients that come to him don't have to wait until the year as they have in the past. but i want to make it very clear this is no -- quote -- "government takeover." that's a scare tactic. that's not accurate. let's just maintain the current system. i'd like to yield to the senator from vermont. the presiding officer: the senator from vermont is recognized. mr. sanders: i'm going to speak on something other than health care. all right. that's fine. i thank my friend from montana for yielding. and, mr. president, what i want to touch upon is my strong belief that ben bernanke should not be reappointed for a second term as chairman of the federal reserve. and in that regard i place a hold on his nomination. mr. president, everybody in this
country understands that we're in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the great depression. we are looking at 17% of our people being either unemployed or underemployed. we are looking at average length of unemployment being longer than it has been since world war ii. we are looking at a situation where over the last eight or nine years, median household income has declined by over $2,000. we are looking at a situation where, according to "u.s.a. today", accept 18, 2009 -- quote --"the incomes of the young and middle-aged, especially men, have fallen off a cliff since 2000 leesk more age -- leaving more age groups poorer than they were in the 1980's." we're seeing a collapse in the
middle class, an increased gap between the rich and everybody else. and then, to make a very bad situation worse, as a result of the greed or irresponsibility, and illegal behavior of wall street, we're now in a terrible, terrible economic decline. mr. president, the american people voted overwhelmingly last year for a change in our national policies and for a new direction in the economy. after eight long years of trickle-down economics that benefited the very wealthy at the expense of the middle class and working families, the people of our country demanded a change that would put the interest of ordinary people ahead of the greed of wall street and the wealthy few. what the american people did not bargain for was another four years for one of the key teark
architects of the bush economy, federal chairman, ben bernanke. mr. president, the chairman of the federal reserve, and the federal reserve itself, has four main responsibilities. and i want the american people to determine whether they believe the fed has, in fact, succeeded in fulfilling these obligations. here they are, four main responsibilities. number one, to conduct monetary policy in a way that leads to maximum employment and stable prices. maximum employment. well, when you've got 17% of your people unemployed or underemployed, i do not think the fed or all of us or any of us have succeeded in that area. number two, to maintain the safety and soundness of financial institutions. well, obviously that has not been the case either. to contain systematic risk in financial markets. and, four, to protect consumers against the deceptive and unfair
financial products. mr. president, not since the great depression has the financial system been as unsafe, unsound, and unstable as it has been during mr. bernanke's tenure. more than 120 banks have failed since he has been chairman, and the list of troubled banks has grown from 50 to over 416. mr. president, mr. bernanke has failed to prevent banks from issuing deceptive and unfair financial products to consumers. under his leadership mortgage lenders were allowed to issue predatory loans that they knew consumers would be unable to repay. this risky practice was allowed to continue long after the f.b.i. warned in 2004 of an epidemic in mortgage fraud. here's what the bottom line is: the bottom line is that there are -- the key responsibility of
the fed is to maintain the safety and soundness of our financial institutions and they failed. they failed. and as a result of the greed and speculation on wall street, which the fed should have been observing, which the fed should have acted against, which the fed should have warned the american people and the congress about, they did nothing, and our financial system went over the edge. and then, mr. president, after not doing their jobs as a watchdog, not fulfilling their obligation to protect safety and soundness of our financial system, then the financial collapse occurred. and what happened? what the fed did is provide not only -- not only the -- that congress put $700-plus billions of dollars into the bailout, the fed provided several trillion dollars -- trillion dollars of
zero interest loans to large financial institutions. and, mr. president, when i asked chairman bernanke which financial institutions received these zero interest loans, the answer was, i am not going to tell you. not going to tell you. mr. president, the reason that congress, against my vote, bailed out wall street is they were too big to fail. large financial institutions were too big to fail. well, since the collapse, three out of the four largest financial institutions have become even larger. so the systematic danger for our economy is today even greater than it was before the bailout. mr. president, the american people want a new wall street. they want a wall street which begins to respond to the needs of small business so that we can begin to create jobs, not just
to wall street and outrageous executive compensation. let me just suggest to you some of the things that i think a fed chairman should be doing, things that mr. bernanke are not. number one, today bailed-out financial institutions are charging consumers 25% or 30% interest rates on their credit card. the fed has the power to stop that, to put a cap on interest rates. that's what they should be doing. the fed has the power to demand that bailed-out institutions provide loans at low-interest rates to small and medium-sized businesses so that we can begin to create the kinds of jobs that are desperately needed in this country. that is not what mr. bernanke has done. mr. president, the fed has the power now to do what is taking place in the united kingdom, something that many economists
are demanding, and that is to start breaking up these large financial institutions which are too big to fail. in my view, if an institution is too big to fail, it's too big to exist. we have to start breaking them up. not to allow them to get even larger. the fed has chosen not to do that. mr. president, we need transparency at the fed. i am the author of a g.a.o. audit of the fed which now has 30 co-sponsors, which i hope that we will pass. at the very least if the taxpayers of the country are putting at risk trillions of dollars being lent out to large financial institutions, we have a right to know which institutions are receiving that money and under what terms. let me conclude, mr. president, by just saying this, this country is in the midst of a horrendous economic crisis. millions of families all over this country are at their wits
end. they are suffering. they're trying to figure out how they're going to keep warm this winter, how they're going to pay their bills. the time now is for a new fed -- for a new direction on wall street, for a wall street which is helping our productive economy create decent-paying jobs. not a wall street based on greed only for themselves whose goal in life is to make as much money as possible for their c.e.o.'s. so, mr. president, we need a new fed. we need a new wall street. and we surely need a new chairman of the fed. my hope is that president obama will give us a new nominee and not mr. bernanke. with that, i yield the floor. the presiding officer: who yields time? a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from montana. mr. baucus: mr. president, might i ask how much time's remaining on each side. the presiding officer: on the majority side, nine minutes and 20 seconds.
on the minority side 23 minutes and 10 seconds. mr. baucus: mr. president, i yield nine minutes and how many seconds? the presiding officer: nine minutes an 11 seconds. mr. baucus: i yield nine minutes and 11 seconds to the senator from iowa. mr. harkin: i'm sad to see that our republican colleagues have resorted to fear tactics in a desperate attempt to preserve a dysfunctional, costly status quo medical system that we have in this country today. republicans in their attempt to strike fear in seniors across the country are trying to convince people that they've changed from the party that's always opposed to medicare to being medicare's staunchest defenders. we all know if it was up to our friends on the other side of the aisle, there would be no medicare. they fought it's very creation. don't take my word for it, take one of their standard bearers who ran for president when he
ran for president. senator bob dole, who is a good friend of mine, i have a lot of admiration for senator dole, i just don't agree with him. he said, "i was there, fighting the fight, voting against medicare, one of 12, because we knew it wouldn't work in 1965." he said that in 1995 when he was running for president. he was proud of the fact that republicans and he had opposed the establishment of the medicare system. i said, well, that was then. but what -- what about recentrily? -- recently? former speaker newt gingrich, quote, we believe it's going to wither on the vine." speaking of medicare. you would think my friends on the other side of the aisle were the biggest supporters of medicare when they opposed it from the very beginning. now we hear all of the stuff about medicare advantage. medicare advantage. well, they like to tell you that
if, in fact, we're going to be cutting a little bit out of medicare advantage, that somehow this is going to ruin -- this is going to ruin medicare. well, if that were true, why would the national committee to preserve social security and medicare, aarp, the alliance for retired americans, groups that represent tens of billions of seniors, why would they stand with us in support of our bill and not with the republicans who want to gut the very provisions that we have in there that will strengthen and preserve medicare? do people really believe that our republican colleagues care more about seniors and these groups that actually represent seniors? well, the truth is when we talk about medicare advantage, we're talking about private insurance companies who promise that through competition, they were going to be able to deliver better quality health care to seniors at a lower cost. it all sounded really good. but what has happened since
medicare advantage has come in? the reality is medicare is now paying on average 14% more to these private plans than the same costs for beneficiaries under traditional medicare. in some cases, as high as 50% more. that's $12 billion a year more than these beneficiaries stated medicare. basically, we are giving a a $12 billion subsidy, a a $12 billion subsidy to these companies. and this -- again, don't take my word for it. this is from june, 2009, medpac report." we estimate that in 2009, medicare pays about $12 billion more for enrollees of medicare advantage plans than it would if they were in the fee-for-service medicare." $12 billion slush fund. now, we're saying that we're going to reduce some of those
subsidies and i hear my friends on the other side say oh, my gosh, this is going to cost -- medicare is going to take away all these benefits and all that other kind of stuff. well, not necessarily. right now, we know that according to the c.b.o., our bill will lower seniors' medicare premiums by $30 billion over ten years. lower their premiums by by $30 billion over ten years. then the other side said well, but if you cut these medicare advantage payments, you'll see their benefits cut. that is absolutely not true. all medicare plans, whether traditional medicare or private, must, must offer all required medicare benefits. now, here's the kicker. if, in fact, there are some cuts made in medicare advantage, then these private plans, these private companies that are making $12 billion is their slush fund.
maybe rather than cutting the benefits, maybe they will decide to cut their c.e.o. salaries from $12 million a year to to $10 million a year. maybe they will decide instead of three or four corporate jets, they only need one corporate jet. maybe they'll start reducing some of the profits that they're making, huge profits that they're making off of the taxpayers and off of medicare payees right now. so, again, if you cut the medicare advantage programs, i guess my friend on the other side say well, number one, they can continue to pay their c.e.o.'s $12 million a year salaries, they can continue the corporate jets, they can continue to have all their fancy buildings, they can continue to have all these outrageous profits, but they're going to have to cut medicare. that's what the other side is saying. what we're saying is no, cut the c.e.o.'s' salaries, cut these enormous profits, cut those
corporate jets, cut all that stuff that you're using the slush fund for, but keep the benefits for medicare, and as i said under present law, they cannot cut the basic medicare benefits. no senior anywhere in america will lose their core medicare benefits under our bill. let's be clear about that. if they were, aarp, the national committee to preserve social security, the national alliance of retired persons would never be supporting our bill. now, lastly, according to an economic survey done at boston university, the extensively analyzed medicare advantage payments, and they found that just 14% of the additional funds that these private plans have received have gone to benefit medicare enrollees. the vast majority of the payments, 86% go to profits,
c.e.o. salaries, corporate jets, all these other things, or they might even, some of them, may go to things like gym memberships or spa memberships. i raised a point the other day, why should my medicare beneficiaries in iowa have to pay more in medicare so that a medicare beneficiary, say, in arizona, in arizona can go to a spa and have it paid for by medicare advantage? paid for by the subsidies of of $12 billion that we give them. that come both from taxpayers and from medicare recipients right now. so i don't think it's fair for my seniors and i to have to pay for that. now, a lot has been said about all the people that are in the medicare advantage plans. i looked up the figures. right now, nationally, only 18.6% of all enrollees are in
medicare advantage. a little less than one out of five. in iowa, in my state, it's 10%. one out of every ten. why is that? well, we don't have a lot of spas in iowa. we don't have those fancy things like they got in florida and texas and arizona and california, wherever else all this stuff is going. but what my seniors need is they need the peace of mind of knowing that medicare -- medicare is going to be there for them in the future. they need to know that they're going to get the benefits that we put in this plan that's in our bill that will help our medicare beneficiaries -- and here's what it is. as aarp says -- "the new senate bill makes improvement in the medicare program by creating a new annual wellness benefit, providing free preventative benefits, and most importantly for aarp members, reducing drug costs for seniors who fall into the dreaded medicare doughnut
hole." "the bill also makes improvements on age rating, a discriminatory practice that allows insurers to charge exorbitant, age-based premiums to older americans. finally, aarp strongly supports provisions in the senate bill to strengthen long-term services and supports. we also applaud the inclusion of provisions to improve access to medicaid income and community-based services." all in our bill. all of which would fall if we adopt the mccain amendment. so i urge my colleagues to not listen to the rhetoric of the other side. listen to those that really do represent our seniors. make sure that we preserve and protect the basic medicare functions for our seniors and for those who are about to retire. you won't get that through medicare advantage. now, if medicare advantage wants to exist and compete on a level
playing field, god bless them, go ahead and get it done. that's what we were promised. but medicare advantage came through here. i remember it. oh, yeah. competition. but what we found out is we had to cough up an additional additional $12 billion a year to subsidize it. to subsidize it. well, mr. president, it is time for us again to say no to the fearmongers, to those who are trying to strike fear in our seniors. it's time to stand up, support the bennet amendment. support the bennet amendment which makes very clear -- and here's what the bennet amendment does. it makes very crystal clear that any savings thatomes from medicare has to go back into medicare, and that's the way it ought to be. that's what's in this bill. the bennet amendment makes that crysta insurance companies have
reminds the senator the majority time has expired. mr. brown: i ask unanimous consent for an additional two minutes. the presiding officer: is there objection? mr. brown: thank you. the presiding officer: without objection, so ordered. mr. brown: thank you, mr. president. is that your read, much of what they are trying to protect is the insurance company subsidies, not really the medicare benefits which their party has opposed for much of the last 40 years, frankly, including its creation? mr. harkin: i thank my friend for pointing that out. as i said earlier, really, what they are talking about in preserving these benefits and the subsidy for medicare advantage is, as i said, the big c.e.o. compensation packages, the corporate jets, the fancy buildings, the high, huge profits somewhere between 30% and 200% profits. 30% to 200% profits made by these companies that are providing medicare advantage. that's what the republicans are trying to protect, not the medicare recipients.
the presiding officer: the senator from utah is recognized. mr. bennett: mr. president, i have listened with some interest to the comments that have been made when i came on the floor. i simply want to make this one observation about medicare advantage. president obama promised that americans who have coverage that they like would not lose the coverage that they have. there are a number of americans who have medicare advantage and they like it and they want to keep it, and this congress is about to say no, you can't. this congress through this bill if it passes is going to eliminate medicare advantage, and frankly, the people who go after medicare advantage because they like it are going to be the ones that are disadvantaged here. they're going to be the ones who will see president obama's pledge violated, and frankly i don't think they much care about how much an executive is paid or what happens in the company.
they care that they have coverage that they like, coverage that they're paying for, coverage that they have chosen, and they're being told by the federal government you cannot have what you want. now, there's another aspect of this that i'd like to explore in the time that i have. we keep hearing so much about the c.b.o. and all of the scores that the c.b.o. is pointing out. along with rhetoric that says we can't afford to wait. we need a solution now. the status quo is unacceptable. i'd like to point out once again that the status will remain quo for four years if this bill passes. in the budget smoke and mirrors that have been put into this bill, and in order to make it look as if it costs less money, they make the effective date in 2014, so there will be four years after the implementation -- after the passage of this bill where americans will not see any kind of change in their plans, but
what they will see is an increase in their premiums. they will see an increase in taxes. why do i say that? between january, 2010, and january, 2014, there will be four open seasons in which plans can be changed. and as the taxes start to hit, as the costs start to hit, those companies that are involved in offering these plans will say okay, we've got to get ready for the expenditures. what do we do? we have got four open seasons in which to change our plans before this thing hits. now, obviously, that cannot be scored by c.b.o. because c.b.o. doesn't know what changes will be made. but do we really think that we can go through four open seasons with no change whatsoever in the
face of this enormous change that will hit in january, 2014? do we really think everything is going to remain static? that's what the c.b.o. computers are. and do we really think that the the $500 billion that they want to take out of medicare to help pay for this will not be hashed over again and again? one of two things will happen. number one, democrats will blink in the face of the anger of senior citizens and say we really didn't mean it. yes, the bill cuts medicare by by $500 billion, but we really didn't mean it and we have four years in which to fix it. that is, four years in which to replace that $500 billion. and, of course, when that that $500 billion is replaced, if that's the way they decide to go, then we will know that the numbers we are getting out of c.b.o. are completely phony.
then we will know that the statement that this bill is revenue neutral is -- is a nonstarter. then we will know that there was never any intention to try to deal with this cost. but suppose future congresses stand firm and say yes, we are going to stand firm in this four-year period. we're going stand firm against the senior citizens who are going to get their medicare benefits cut. and we're going to take th the $500 billion out of medicare. then we will see the promises that are being made around here that there will be no cut in medicare services all disappear. i hear people say, we're not cutting benefits, we're just cutting payments to providers. that statement is being made over and over again on the other side of the aisle. we're not cutting benefits. we're going to take tha
that $500 billion away from the providers. but the benefits will remain the same. well, mr. president, in my state i have plenty of providers that are on the edge right now financially. there on the edge of going out of business right now financially because of the cuts that have been made in medicare in the name of cutting down payments to providers. what happens to the people that are in a nursing home that is currently dependent upon medicare payments in order to survive if they come in and say, all right, we're not going to do anything to the benefits these people are entitled to in this nursing home, we're just going to cut enough payments to the nursing home that the nursing home goes out of business? and what happened to the people who are in the nursing home under that circumstance? well, they're going to have to go someplace else and there's going to have to be money to pay for them to go someplace ems. and the -- else.
and the money's going to have to flow through medicare someplace else and we're back to the first option that i talked about, we weren't serious when i said we were going to take $500 billion out of medicare. we weren't really serious in order that you don't lose your benefits. we're going to have to start reinvesting in some of these providers. we've seen providers go out of business because of the cuts in medicare. we need to start putting that money back in medicare and we're back into the circumstance that we've been talking about all along that this thing is not paid for. one final point i want to make. we had a hearing today with the chairman of the federal reserve. ben bernanke is up for reappointment. and, of course, the entire conversation was about the economy and what is the future of the economy? there were a number of people who had a conversation about the past. but i wanted to focus on the
future. and i pointed this out to the chairman and asked for his comments with respect to future of our economy. most of my constituents don't understand what i'm about to say. frankly, most of the people in the press don't understand it and maybe some of you, even members of this body, don't even understand it. when we talk about the federal budget, two-thirds of the federal budget is beyond the control of this congress. two-thirds of the federal budget is on autopilot unless this congress changes entitlements. somebody says, well, what does this word entitlement mean? why do you talk about entitlement? entitlement means by law these individuals are entitled to this money whether we have it or not. the federal government has made a contract with them. all right, it's a social contract rather than a legal contract, but it's just as binding politically, where the federal government has to spend